Three reasons why the Steelers will winOver the next four days, I’ll post three reasons why each team can expect to win this week. Obviously, this is known in the business as “fence sitting,” so on Friday, I’ll step out on the line and make predictions. But in two very close matchups such as these, it’s good to look at what each team brings to the championship games. In these breakdowns, I’ll focus on what the particular team’s strengths are.So, I’ll start with the Steelers, and move to the Broncos, Panthers and Seahawks.Three reasons why the Steelers will win:
1. They’re a team of destiny. No sixth seed has made it this far since the 1990 playoff expansion, but no sixth seed has had as much talent as the Steelers. Pittsburgh went 15-1 last year and, if not for Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles in the postseason, would have been thought of as a Super Bowl favorite at the beginning of this season. But, when healthy, Big Ben has looked like the real deal this year, and most of his supporting cast was back. Add a full season from Casey Hampton on the defensive line and Kendall Simmons on the offensive line, and Pittsburgh is as good as they were last year, despite the 11-5 record. Jerome Bettis came back to try for a Super Bowl in his hometown, and for once, the road to the Super Bowl doesn’t go through Pittsburgh, which might be the best thing for the Steelers. And given they way Bettis and the Steelers survived Sunday, they might be charmed. Many people thought that with New England being vulnerable, it was the Indianapolis Colts’ year. But perhaps it’s the other team the Patriots have terrorized so well that will reap the rewards of their downfall.
2. They have the offensive balance that has always eluded them. When the Steelers’ first rose to prominence under Bill Cowher, they did it largely with the running game. Barry Foster and Bam Morris pounded the ball, and the quarterbacks, Neil O’Donnell and Mike Tomczak, simply tried not to lose it. Then came the Kordell Stewart era, in which the Steelers could often be spectacular on offense but didn’t always have the discipline to execute when it mattered. Now they have a terrific one-two backfield of speed (Willie Parker) and power (Bettis), a quarterback with the arm, legs and toughness to win a game, receivers who can catch and block (and throw!), and the constant under Cowher – a physical and talented offensive line. The early 90s Steelers wouldn’t have had the firepower to come back against the Bengals, and the late 90s and early 00s Steelers wouldn’t have had the confidence to throw the ball early against the Colts. These guys feel like they can do it all, and it’s why they’re 8-2 on the road this year.
3. Troy Polamalu will be the best defensive player on the field. No discredit to Denver, which has some wonderful players on defense, or to his own teammates. But Polamalu has had a ridiculous postseason. He has become for this Steelers defense what Ray Lewis is to the Ravens – equal parts head, heart and soul. Polamalu can step up to stop the run. He can blitz. He can cover. And best of all, he plays in a scheme such that the offense rarely knows what he’s doing. Even when they do, Polamalu has the legs and the motor to get himself into the play. Three times against the Colts, he came from nowhere to nearly make an interception, and as we now know, the last of them should have been a pick. If he and the rest of the Steelers defense can adjust to the altitude in Denver, they should be able to force the action like they did against the Colts. Of course, after an ill-advised lateral following an interception against the Bengals, and the play that was taken away from him in Indianapolis, Polamalu may want to consider just taking a knee if he picks one Sunday.Later Tuesday, I’ll tell you three reasons why the Broncos will win.DJ